"There will be situations where it’ll be hard squaring up to everything. In those moments, I’ll just push harder on the pedals because there’s nothing like the feeling you get when you’ve made it."
The adventuring academic. From one city to the next, trainee architect Gaëlle Bojko and her Bombtrack Arise are spending the year soaking up cycling culture across Europe.
Venturing alone from her home in north-western France on a grand lap around the outskirts of Europe, 22-year-old Gaëlle Bojko combined adventure with academia. Setting off with the intention of linking around twenty different towns, this solo ride will also forme some of the research for Gaëlle’s upcoming Masters degree project.
“I wanted to spend a few days in each to discover its evolution, history and everyday life. I wasn’t aiming to learn everything about every town. That would require spending months, if not years, in each. Instead, I wanted a glimpse of their uniqueness.”
The plan was to gain insight into how each city has developed its own individual cycling culture. But the trip isn’t all work. Between these busy metropolises lies further adventure. With only a rough plan of her route, Gaëlle tends to set a direction, ride a hundred miles, and see where she ends up. From braving fierce snowstorms in Albania and Greece, to enjoying unexpected lunch invitations in rural Turkey, Gaëlle endures the landscape and climate, while throwing herself into the local culture.
Home Town: I was born in 1997, in a tiny village near Chartres, north-central France. But I spent my childhood in Italy before eventually coming back to France and settling near Le Mans. I now study in Nantes.
What got you into cycling: I couldn't say, I always enjoyed cycling. I spent my childhood on my bicycle. Either trying out stupid tricks and ending up hurting myself. Or 'racing' with my dad and pedalling as fast as I could to catch him up on our weekend rides. I lived in Italy for a few years, where it was nice and flat, then we moved back to France when I was 10. It suddenly became hilly and I spent hours exploring the countryside with my cousin, riding some stony and muddy trails, climbing the hills as fast as we could, and getting lost. I eventually managed to convince my father to let me ride alone and took every excuse to get on the bike. For mother's day when I was 11 I remember cycling from the florist to my house - which is a few kilometres away - with a tree strapped to the back of my bike. My sister was cycling a few metres behind in case it would fall.
More recently I studied for one year in Paris where I barely ever cycled, but thankfully Nantes is a very bike-friendly city so now I ride every single day.
What’s your day job, and how do you balance that with riding: I’m studying architecture. I cycle everyday to uni and ride around Nantes when I have time, either on my own or with friends. I also ride with a group of cyclists on Wednesday evenings, which I enjoy very much as I’m generally the only woman and have to push myself hard to follow them. There's no better feeling than ending a day exhausted, without any power left in the legs, mud everywhere and a huge smile on your face.
How are you financing your rider's activity: All kind of student jobs, during holidays and on weekends. Some are interesting, and some are really boring. But knowing that I'll have money to go and cycle during the holidays is a good motivation. Hopefully, I'll find a summer job that’s related to bicycles someday!
What has been your favourite event / race and why: It’s hard to tell. I enjoyed most of the countries I cycled in. There were some good points and some downsides about all of them. However, I would say I enjoyed cycling in Turkey, even if I had a lot of trouble there as a solo woman. Lots of steep mountains to climb, lots of tea to keep me warm and hydrated, lots of kind people to chat with, and wide hard shoulders on which I felt very safe. I spent one and a half months there. It was great to get to understand the culture and therefore know how to interact with people. That makes any stay much more enjoyable than only spending a couple of days in a country, as I did in the Balkans, where I got frustrated with not understanding how things work.
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“My first solo bike trip ever i did in the scottish Highlands, back in August 2017. Since then I think this region is magical, stunning - and cycling there was a memorable experience. I spent 10 days pedalling in non-stop pouring rain, even my phone stopped working on the second day due to all the water. I wasn't equipped properly at all for such conditions and it was very hard emotionally for several reasons (one of them obviously being the rain). But still, I enjoyed the whole trip a lot as I discovered that certain feeling of freedom that I only get when I'm touring on my own, Those kind of trips when my only concerns are finding water, food and a (nice) place to camp. I only had a disposable camera that time, but the shot above adds the memories best I have attached to that place."